St. Louis County has the largest population and number of jobs of any geopolitical entity in the St. Louis region and, consequently, the largest economic clout. The county currently contracts transit service out to the Bi-State Development Agency d.b.a. Metro which has operated the St. Louis region’s public transportation services since 1963.
1973 – Transportation Sales Tax Act
By June 1973, the public transportation division of Bi-State was in dire financial straits. The agency threatened it would have to shut down bus operations by the end of the month if it did not receive additional funding. The Missouri legislature thus passed the Transportation Sales Tax Act which authorized the governing bodies of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and Kansas City to levy a half-cent sales tax for public transportation. The enactment of the sales tax allowed Bi-State to lower fare prices from 40 cents to 25 cents. The legislation was originally to terminate on December 31, 1975, but was extended numerous times until additional legislation removed the sunset provision in 2000. (For reference, see §§ 94.600 to 94.655 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri)
Unlike the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County has historically appropriated just over half of the revenue derived from the sales tax to Metro. The remaining portion is used for maintenance of the county’s roads.
August 1994 – Proposition M
Operating deficits at Bi-State prompted officials to ask voters for a quarter-cent sales tax to support mass transit and the new MetroLink system. Bi-State had warned that without the measure’s passage, bus service would be cut by 40 percent. Growing civic pride generated by the enormous success of MetroLink’s first year of operation, however, allowed Proposition M to pass handily with greater than 60 percent voting in favor of the measure in both the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County. Officials promised that one-third of the sales tax proceeds would be used to support current operations while the remaining two-thirds would be used as a local match for federal dollars to greatly expand the new rail based transit system. While new MetroLink extensions were not anticipated to come into service until 2001 at the earliest, officials hoped to begin new commuter rail operations from Pacific to downtown within three years.
November 1997 – Proposition M
Proposition M was a quarter-cent sales tax advertised to aid in the quick expansion of the MetroLink system. Declining support from the State of Missouri and the federal government meant than a greater proportion of the 1994 Proposition M revenue was being used for operations than anticipated. Prior to the vote, top officials from the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and B-State signed a memorandum of understanding saying two-thirds of tax proceeds would be used for expansion of MetroLink. The remaining third would be used of system operation. The measure was defeated receiving only 42 percent of the vote. Similar to the reasons for Madison County’s rejection of their own Proposition M, a lack of firm plans and uncertainty of how sales tax proceeds would be used were cited as the primary reasons for the ballot measure’s failure. As a result of the measure’s failure, a similar proposition in the City of St. Louis, despite narrowly passing, was not enacted.
Responding to opponents of Proposition M, East-West Gateway initiated a series of Major Transportation Investment Analysis studies to assess the transportation needs in north, west, and south St. Louis County. Those studies were completed in 2000 and have formed the basis for subsequent corridor level studies such as Metro South and Northside-Southside as well as Metro’s current Moving Transit Forward plan.
November 2008 – Proposition M
Declining sales tax revenue and increased costs stemming from the new Cross County MetroLink extension prompted county officials to ask for a half-cent sales tax to fund roads and public transit split roughly in half for each. Metro warned that without the additional revenue, service would be cut by as much as 40 percent. Despite the warnings, severe ill will towards Metro from Cross County cost overruns and later litigation losses resulted in the narrow defeat of Proposition M with only 48.4 percent in favor. (For reference, see Metro at a Crossroads)
April 2010 – Proposition A
Shortly after instituting severe service cuts in March 2009, Metro received one-time infusions of cash from the federal government and the State of Missouri that restored most of the cut service. That cash will run out this May. Proposition A, a half-cent sales tax very similar to the recent Proposition M, is thus the last chance for St. Louis County to prove whether it will financially support Metro and the St. Louis region’s public transit.
All posts in this series:
- A History of Transit Sales Tax Initiatives: St. Clair County
- A History of Transit Sales Tax Initiatives: Madison County
- A History of Transit Sales Tax Initiatives: St. Charles County
- A History of Transit Sales Tax Initiatives: City of St. Louis
- A History of Transit Sales Tax Initiatives: St. Louis County